“INSPIRATION & the ELEMENTS”
New York City was 14 hours of road and three hours of sleep behind us. We awoke in our Nashville hotel room at 4:30 in the morning on the eighth of December last year. Despite being utterly exhausted from the intensive 30-day/5,000 mile road shoot of our documentary “3 Thumbs Up,” we were determined to make it back to Dallas that evening. I drove the old ’86 Ford Station Wagon (coined “Inky the Ghost” and featured in our film “The Other Side of Paradise” – WITHOUT functioning stereo) for most of the trip and Arianne Martin followed, making a mini-marital-moviemakin’-convoy in our Focus (WITH functioning stereo).
We took turns sharing custody of our little terrier, Larry David (yes, we named him after that Larry David). Ryan had to fly out two days prior, in order to finish an important project for his job. Although, the 30 days had taken its toll on our bodies and spirits, I was driving with a renewed sense of creativity. The previous weekend, the three of us decided to embark on our next feature narrative project and continue shooting the documentary, covering all the behind the scenes details of the new film. I had NO idea what the story was going to be about or in what genre it would fit. I didn’t have any characters in mind or even a feeling about the tone. All I felt was relief. I felt relief, because I would be allowed to create and fall in love with a story again. I felt that overwhelmingly joyous passion that has pushed me to want to “make movies” since I was a little kid.
The heavens opened about three hours later, both physically and creatively. Rain poured on the ghost with thunderous applause. The wagon’s windshield wipers ferociously fought back the tidal wave of water. LIGHT BULB! I immediately grabbed my phone, hit “record” on the voice memo function and started speaking, “Okay, so … thinking through new script ideas.” I had never seen such a downpour. We were completely worn out when we arrived in Dallas that evening; however, I was brimming with pure happiness and satisfaction. I had the story I wanted to tell.
It begins with the stimulation of the senses, and soon after, once creatively aroused, the heart and mind follow. There have been countless occurrences where extraordinary weather conditions and interference from the elements have inspired me to write or paint, giving me an inspiration to create. This is usually the first step in my writing process. Some random (?) element or sensory stimulant serves as a catalyst that results in the creation of an entire work of art, constructed through words, paint, ink, or any other medium that functions to create the final piece.
With ‘SWALLOW’ it started with RAIN
My next step in writing, as I continue to flesh out the story, is a constant flash of inspiration and influence. At this point, I’m pretty sure what I want the feel and tone of the film to be. Certain songs start getting played more and more, sometimes repeating over a hundred times. I start studying films and scenes that succeeded in achieving a sense of the tone I have in mind.
I also watch some of those scenes that will always inspire me.
This all leads up to the outlining phase.
Outlining “SWALLOW’ feels like this RIDE:
Outlining is the most important step in my writing process. This is where I work out all the kinks and finalize all of the story details. Every single scene and character is developed and complete. When one of my outlines is completed, the script is as good as done in my mind. At this point, I can watch the entire film play out in my head and alter everything as it goes. Every character, characterization and shot now has an initial representation that I can mold. I know the dialogue and have variances of those words already set up in my mind. I spend quite a bit of time outlining. This is so I have a VERY well-shaped version of the film before the scripting phase. I like to prep to the point of completion and then open up the different options and physically write the story in much more an organic manner. Once everything clicks and the outline is complete, it is time to start writing.
Writing ‘SWALLOW’ and fully SUBMERSED
Now, I write. I write passionately. I write with pure happiness. I write with inspiration. I write.
I crank up the exact song that was playing as I drove across a bridge towards New York City, while shooting our doc. Two nights before we decided to make another film, and on that day, as Julian Casablancas’ vocals roared on track number six, “River of Brakelights,” I got goose bumps and a freeing sense of creative confidence, because I knew this film would be special, and it would be straight from my heart, soul, and mind. I was just waiting for the elements to interfere and inspire me. Little did I know, it was a couple of days away … I had never seen such a downpour.
Thanks again for reading and check out our facebook fan page for “SWALLOW.” I want to hear your suggestions on topics to discuss! I leave you on one quick note. Words are also an inspiration and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to share my words with you in this weekly column. I hope it is a very honest representation of what the filmmaking process is like for myself. If you haven’t read it already, check out this inspiring Esquire article about a man’s words: Roger Ebert: The Essential Man.
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“Making SWALLOW” — a weekly column exclusive to It’s Just Movies — will follow the film from pre-production through distribution.
Justin D. Hilliard is a writer/director/producer and co-founder of Striped Socks Productions. He attended the University of Texas at Arlington and received his BFA in Film – Cum Laude in 2004. His previous films are “The Other Side of Paradise,” “3 Thumbs Up Doc” and “Wednesday.”